Keepin’ It Classy/The Stars of Stage and Screen: Bolero by Maurice Ravel (as used in the movie, “10”).

The stories behind the world’s greatest classical compositions…Composition 12/50.

***Editor’s Note: most classical works are fine to stand on their own when it comes to the telling of the story of how that piece of music came to be. But, today’s work is one whose story cannot be told without also discussing the cultural impact that it had as the centrepiece of a famous Hollywood movie. So, for the first time since I started creating the posts for the Keepin’ It Classy and the Stars for Stage and Screen series, we are having a crossover edition. This post will appear on the checklists for each series, as well as on the Spotify playlists for each series, too.

A Blake Edwards film, “10”.

In the 1970s, one of the most well-respected movie directors in Hollywood was a man named Blake Edwards. Edwards won many awards for his filmmaking: most notably for the classic series of comedic films starring Peter Sellers that were known as the Pink Panther movies. Blake Edwards grew up in a household steeped in the traditions of Vaudeville and of filmmaking in the black and white silent era. Thus, many of his formative influences were people who frequented his very own home such as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. When Blake Edwards began producing his own films, slapstick comedy was often a feature. Because of his success in Hollywood, Edwards was able to attract A-list actors to work on his projects. So, when it was announced in 1978 that Edwards was making a new movie starring Julie Andrews and Dudley Moore, the excitement level within the film industry was real. Everyone expected the movie to do well. In 1979 the movie was released in theatres and quickly became somewhat of a cultural phenomenon. That movie was called “10”. The cultural phenomenon came in the form of an unknown actress and model named Bo Derek. This is the story of why Bo Derek was always more than just a pretty face.

“Have you ever done it to Ravel’s Bolero?

The plot of “10” is fairly straightforward on the surface. It involves Dudley Moore and Julie Andrews being a couple who have reached middle age together. Dudley Moore is starting to tire of the love life he and Andrews share, and as a result his eyes begin to roam. For the most part, this involves using a telescope to spy on his neighbours as they enjoy their own intimate acts. However, one day while driving his car, Moore finds himself at a red light. As he glances over into the car beside him at the light, he sees that in the back seat sits a bride on her way to her wedding. The first time Moore sees the bride’s face is the first time we, as an audience, meet Bo Derek. Blake Edwards deliberately cast a complete unknown in the role because he wanted the reaction of the audience when seeing her face in that car to be pure and unsullied by any previous baggage she may have carried over from other roles in other movies. So, we see what Moore sees as he sees it. What Dudley saw was a flawlessly beautiful female face. Bo Derek was truly beautiful. In the movie, seeing her took Moore’s breath away. She became a fantasy that he just had to have become real. In pursuit of finding her, much physical comedy ensues. When Moore finally winds up next to her on a couch in her home, he is very quick to realize that the predator has become the prey and she has all of the power in this situation. He suddenly feels weak and inadequate. This is brought home when it is revealed by Derek’s character that she and her new husband have “an understanding” and that she is free to indulge her own fantasies whenever the opportunity arises. Then Derek asks him if he has ever “done it” to Ravel’s Bolero? Moore responds with an terrified gulp.

After “10” was released, there was some debate as to whether or not the movie made a feminist statement by having Bo Derek so confidently take charge and pursue her own sources of personal pleasure, or, as has so often been the case in Hollywood, was Edwards simply objectifying Derek and making a hit movie based solely upon her looks? Blake Edwards countered that he was always intent on making a movie that honoured strong women. He backed up his claim by telling reporters that his vision for making “10” came to him after learning of the story behind how Maurice Ravel came to make “Bolero”. This is that story.

Ida Rubenstein: the Russian woman who commissioned Bolero.

Maurice Ravel was a French composer. He was most noted for being a composer of music for ballet. Ravel was always keenly interested in the relationship between sound and movement, and therefore he created his compositions with the end goal of his music accompanying some form of dance. Because of his reputation for creating ballet scores, Ravel was approached by a woman named Ida Rubenstein in the hopes that he would create an original work for her to dance to on stage. Ravel was excited for the commission because Rubenstein was a well known figure in the international world of dance in the early 1900s. Rubenstein was a Jewish woman who was born in Russia at the turn of the century. Her family was fairly wealthy, which afforded Rubenstein the opportunity to indulge her artistic fantasies. So, she decided to become a ballerina. The unfortunate thing was that Rubenstein was never professionally trained. So, when she appeared on stage in Russia and attempted to dance in productions her lack of training exposed her as an amateur, and she became the subject of mockery in the dance world. However, Rubenstein was never one to shrink away from challenges. If she couldn’t dance in ballet productions with the premier ballet companies, then she would create her own ballets and write roles suited for her talents. Thus, Rubenstein became a player in the world of staging original ballets. But, more than that, Ida Rubenstein balked at being told that female roles had to conform to social expectations and that, as a result, she should only dance in demure roles. Because she controlled her own means of production, Rubenstein created roles for herself that often involved nudity and/or sexually-suggestive scenes. Her willingness to pose nude in public caused a scandal during the early 1900s. So, when she approached Ravel to commission some music for her latest ballet, Ravel was very aware of who Rubenstein was and the type of movement-inducing music that would please his new client.

“Bolero” is a term that is used to describe a form of couples dance that originated in Spain and Portugal. In many ways, it is a distant relative of flamenco dancing. The main difference is that bolero-style dancing is done at a much slower and more sensuous rate. Ravel’s “Bolero” composition is unique among works judged as being among the best of its genre because it is limited to only one movement. As we have seen in other posts in the Keepin’ It Classy series, most classical compositions are composed of between three to five movements. In classical music, a musical movement serves a purpose in the storytelling arc created by the composer depending on where it is placed in the overall structure of the composition. It is very rare for any classical work to have only one movement, especially one movement that comprises a fifteen-minute work. But, that is what Ravel created and presented to Rubenstein, who, in turn, loved it! The reason that Ravel’s “Bolero” was a perfect match for Rubenstein’s erotic style of performing is that the composition is built in a way that simulates love making…to put it bluntly. There are many who compare “Bolero” to the rock n’ roll classic “Stairway To Heaven”. In both cases, the songs are said to be structured so as to simulate sexual intercourse. They both start slowly and repeat themselves over and over, slowly building in intensity until climaxing in a crescendo of sound near the end, at which time, a slow, relaxed coda closes out each song. For Rubenstein, she knew exactly what Ravel had created and was happy to apply her brand of sensuality on stage. The end result of all of this is that Ravel’s “Bolero” gained a reputation as being the “sexiest” classical composition of all time.

French composer, Maurice Ravel.

Which brings us back to producer Blake Edwards. He was well aware of the background story behind “Bolero” and worked to create a fictional storyline around it. He always knew that he wanted someone in his movie who would be able to possess the irresistible beauty and sexual confidence of an Ida Rubenstein. That woman turned out to be Bo Derek. Until the end of his life, Blake Edwards always maintained that Bo Derek’s character was the strongest female role he ever created in any film he produced. As for composer Maurice Ravel, he completed “Bolero” in the 1920s and as part of his sales agreement with Ida Rubenstein was able to retain a composer’s credit on his work. Copyright laws had become standard policy by those days for composers. Consequently, when Blake Edwards licensed “Bolero” for his movie, “10”, he did so with a piece of music not yet in the public domain. As is true of almost all movies which are built upon a musical foundation, the soundtrack to the movie “10” sold millions of copies which, in turn earned millions of dollars for Maurice Ravel’s estate…a windfall his heirs continue to enjoy to this very day.

The link to the video of a live performance of “Bolero” by Maurice Ravel can be found here.

The link to the official movie trailer for the film “10” can be found here.

The link to the official website for my hometown classical music radio station, Classical 103.1, can be found here.

***As always, all original content found in this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Kiss In a Shadow/I Have Dreamed/Something Wonderful from the Original Cast Recording of the Musical, The King and I…Song 11/250 of The Stars of Stage and Screen.

The stories behind the greatest songs from Hollywood movies and Broadway musicals.

Siam: as it sat surrounded but colonized states at the turn of the century.

For over 800 years, The Kingdom of Siam sat alone at the head of The Gulf of Thailand, located between the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea in Asia. The citizens of Siam lived under a form of rule known as Dynastic rule. This meant that the King of Siam and all successors came from the same family line. A King ruled with absolute authority, setting laws by royal proclamation. A King ruled until death, at which time his eldest son would automatically assume the throne and all the authority that came with it. It was all very well organized and all very patriarchal.

One of Siam’s proudest claims to fame was that they could boast of being the only Asiatic country never to have been occupied by colonizing forces. The British Empire was well entrenched in neighbouring India, with the French occupying Vietnam and Cambodia on Siam’s eastren flank. In the middle of it all sat Siam. Because of its geographic position amid all of these colonized nations, Siam often found itself at the centre of international political intrigue as nations (particularly England, France and China) threatened and cajoled Siam in equal measure, attempting to gain access into the region. It was against this historical backdrop that the musical The King and I was based.

The King and I by Rogers and Hammerstein.

The King and I was a Broadway musical written by the famed duo of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The musical debuted on Broadway in 1951…a mere six years after the end of WWII. As you may know, World War II concluded with the surrender of Japan after the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In those pre-Internet days, many North Americans knew little about the countries that constituted the Asian continent. But, because of the War being fresh in the minds of everyone, interest in Asian culture grew, and therefore many movies were produced and books written about Asia. Some of them were based upon fact but many were not. Into this environment strode Rogers and Hammerstein with their musical The King and I, which was, as they declared, inspired by real events.

The memoirs of Anna Leonowens.

The real events that Rodgers and Hammerstein referred to were contained in a novel called Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon, which, in turn, was inspired by the memoirs of a woman named Anna Leonowens, who was an English governess brought into Siam by King Mongkut in the 1860s. As mentioned earlier, in the real world, Siam found itself pitted against rival nations, all of whom wished to exert their influence over the region. King Mongkut was a pragmatic ruler. He understood that a political balancing act was necessary in order for Siam to retain its sense of independence as a Kingdom. So, one of the decrees he issued was that members of the Royal Court, along with every government official, had to be fluent in English. The reason for this was that English was the accepted language of international trade. King Mongkut speculated that one of the ways he could keep foreign powers at bay was through a series of competing trade agreements that, at their core, mandated Siam be in control of their own affairs, resources, ports of entry and so on. As part of the King’s decree, teachers of English became in high demand. Anna Leonowens was one of those teachers who came to Siam at the behest of the King. Her memoirs were one of the world’s first peeks inside of the secretive Kingdom. One of the shocking things that her memoirs revealed was that the King of Siam practised polygamy. The truth of Anna Leonowens job was that she was to instruct King Mongkut’s 82(!) children in English language studies. As it turned out, King Mongkut had numerous “wives” who, in reality, were young women given to the King as “gifts” in exchange for favourable rulings or as payments for debts that had been incurred. This form of sexual slavery left a bitter taste in the mouth of Anna Leonowens. One of those inspired to turn her memoirs into a story was Margaret Landon who wrote her novel Anna and the King of Siam, upon which Rodgers and Hammerstein based much of the story that forms their musical, The King and I. The whole aspect of polygamy and slavery came to form the critical dramatic core of the musical and is what today’s song choices are all about.

THE KING AND I, Deborah Kerr (who had replaced Gertrude Lawrence for the movie), Yul Brynner, 1956. TM and Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. Courtesy: Everett Collection.

The main characters of The King and I were the King, played by Yul Brynner (in a role that earned him a Tony Award for Best Actor, as well as an Oscar for Best Actor when the musical was made into a Hollywood movie a few years later) and Anna, the governess, played by an actress named Gertrude Lawrence. While these roles provided the dramatic structure to the play, as a whole, it was the introduction of two lesser characters that gave this play its heart. Tuptim is a beautiful young Asian woman who arrived at the Royal Court as a “gift” for the King, just as Anna arrived as a teacher. Tuptim becomes one of the King’s many wives and, as such, falls under the terms of the decree that says she must learn to speak English. This brings Tuptim and Anna together. While Anna is teaching Tuptim and the others, she notices that a young man named Lun Tha has taken a shine to Tuptim and has fallen in love with her. Needless to say, seeking to start a romantic relationship with a wife of the King is not usually a wise decision. But Anna, who has taken a strong stand with the King against the practice of having concubines, decides to stay silent when it comes to the budding romance between Tuptim and Lun Tha, and so she becomes a willing co-conspirator. The song “We Kiss In a Shadow” is sung between Tuptim and Lun Tha as they acknowledge the futility of their forbidden love.

The King and I Kelli O’Hara (Tuptim) Bartlett Sher (Lun Tha): Director Credit Photo: Paul Kolnik nyc 212-362-7778

Anna decides to take a more proactive stance against the King’s policy when a political opportunity arises. Word of the King’s harem has leaked out beyond the borders of Siam and is being used by the English as, perhaps, providing them with cause to invade the country and take it over in order to end this “barbaric” practice and restore decency to the country. An English government representative is set to arrive to “inspect” the Kingdom for traces of indecency. The King seeks advice from Anna as to how best to put on a proper public welcome for this English official. Anna gives advice that includes hosting a banquet that serves English food, and, for entertainment, puts on a play based upon a book she has loaned to Tuptim who, in turn, has created an English language play that will be performed. The book Anna has given to Tuptim is a real book about slavery called “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. The King is unfamiliar with the book but is delighted with the idea of showcasing his wives speaking proper English to this official, so he agrees to Anna’s idea. All the while, Lun Tha and Tuptim have agreed to use the play as a diversion that will provide them with the chance to escape together and live out the life they have been dreaming of ever since they first met. It is while making these plans that they sing “I Have Dreamed” to each other.

So, the official shows up. The banquet is held. The play proceeds, and, as it does, the King realizes what the play is about and rages against the public humiliation he has had to endure. Just as he calls for Tuptim’s head, he is informed that she and Lun Tha are missing. At this moment, their plan becomes clear to the King, as does Anna’s role in helping bring it to fruition. If you have not seen the musical nor the movie, I will spare you the details as to what happens next. However, I will say that the musical ends with the King on his deathbed. As his heart beats for the final time, he asks for Anna to be brought to him so that he can seek forgiveness from her for how he has acted and for the decisions/laws he had made that angered her so much along the way. As they meet for the last time, the song “Something Wonderful” plays in the background. This song first appears in act 1 and is sung by the King’s “head wife”, who sings it to Anna as she tries to justify the King’s polygamy laws by saying that, in his heart, he actually was a good man. The use of this song as the play closes speaks to the nature of history and how often it is re-written to suit a particular narrative which is, after all, what The King and I is really about.

In the real world upon which this musical is based, when King Mongkut lay on his deathbed seeking absolution, one of the promises he made was to issue a final decree. That decree was that as his son’s first act as the new king, he would end the policy of “Kowtowing”, or blind obedience, that had guided the politics of Siam for centuries. While this may have brought King Mongkut a certain amount of emotional relief, his act opened the door just enough to empower those who held politically opposing views. As a result, the last century has seen Siam fall victim to coup after coup. Eventually, after one military coup, the new leader decreed that Siam was to be no more, and from that day forth, the region has been called Thailand, which, quite literally, means the land of the Thai. The Thai people form a majority of the population as far as ethnicity goes. Whereas Siam recognized all ethnic groups under the rule of a dynastic king, the new military government officially declared the majority Thai as the official ruling class, with all others falling under their thumb. As you read these words, official history books in Thailand state that the country of Thailand has always existed, going back over eight centuries. This proves one of the most basic truisms regarding the notion of history…those in power get to tell the story. As George Orwell so aptly said in his seminal book, 1984 … “He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future”.

History matters, folks. But, what matters even more is viewing history with a critical eye.

One of my favourite Columbia House Record Club finds.

***Editor’s Note:

The songs chosen for this post all play a critical role in advancing the moral heart of the musical. They first came to my attention way back in the 1980s…not through having watched the musical or the movie, but because I bought a CD from the Columbia House Record Club. Because of how the Columbia House Record Club worked, it was possible to buy a number of CDs at very little initial cost, and so it became a way for me to indulge myself as I moved through various phases in my musical education. I have written here before about Radiohead, Catherine Wheel and about opera, too, all being pivotal moments in my life as a music lover because of Columbia House. Therefore, it should not be surprising that I had a Broadway musical phase, too. One of the CDs I bought from Columbia House Record Club at that time was Barbra Streisand’s terrific Broadway album. On this album, Streisand sings a whole host of standards using that beautiful voice to make each song uniquely her own. With The King and I, she put together a medley of all three songs mentioned in this post. For me, I cannot hear any of these songs except in her voice. So, in the links below, I will link to her version of these songs that she sang in medley form. If you wish to view characters from the musical perform these songs, then I know YouTube has many videos for you to look at.

The link to the video for the songs “We Kiss in a Shadow/I Have Dreamed/Something Wonderful” as sung by Barbra Streisand from her Broadway album can be found here.

The link to the official website for the musical The King and I can be found here.

***As always: all original content found in this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post is to be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Today’s Top 40: The Stories Behind the Songs That Are Hits Right Now

For today’s post, I surveyed the following websites and looked at the songs listed on their Top 40 charts from this past week….BBC Radio 1, Billboard Magazine, Spotify, Indie88-FM & CHUM-FM (out of Toronto) and KEXP-FM out of Seattle. In all cases, I chose the song they had listed in position #5. There are some heavy hitters located in chart spot #5 this week, so without further delay, let’s find out about Today’s Top 40 right now!

Break My Soul by Beyoncé (BBC Radio 1 AND Billboard Magazine)

Beyoncé is far past the point of simply being another musician who happens to be releasing new music. For the past decade or so, Beyoncé has always released music that has been purposeful and strong and defiant. She has championed the role of females in our patriarchal society. She has taught a generation of Black people to take pride in their heritage, and to move forth into the future with heads held high. She suffers no fools in any regard. So, when the news broke last week that Beyoncé had new music ready to be released, it caught everyone’s attention.


Her new album is called Renaissance. The first single to drop is called “Break My Soul”. The song is a glorious throwback to 90s House music tunes that were all the rage in the clubs back then. It has a driving beat and will surely be one of the dance hits of the summer. But, as mentioned, Beyoncé is known for making political statements with her music and “Break My Soul” is no exception. First of all, this song is a response to the experience of workers during the pandemic. The Covid-19 experience was bad for many different types of people in our society. In “Break My Soul”, Beyoncé comments upon what it was like for workers to be forced to expose themselves to dangerous work environments just so that the bottom lines of billionaires could increase. In particular, she sings about a movement/moment in time that has come to be known as The Great Resignation which details the wave of people who refused to go to work in person during and/or after the pandemic. In the bigger picture, The Great Resignation movement is one that is seeking to re-configure how work gets done in this Age of Information, which, when you start to think about it, impacts transportation, everyday things like personal wardrobes and the making of lunches, the use of private buildings, flexible work schedules and much, much more. And yet, “Break My Soul” is a throbbing, beat-driven dance tune that will get your toes a-tapping! Honestly, it is!

But, Beyoncé wasn’t content to merely comment on the nature of labour in our world. In “Break My Soul”, she lent her enormous influence to two people who were well known in the world of 90s House Music but not so well known in popular culture by sampling their work at key moments in her song. The two people were Robin S. and Freedia. The reason this is important…beyond the impact it has on the lives of these two performers…is that Beyoncé is allying herself with three social groups that are currently under legislative attack all across America. Robin S. is a Black female and Freedia is transexual. By including these samples, Beyoncé is making it clear that she supports Black people, females, as well as those who occupy any position on the gender identity spectrum.

Sometimes, a song can become leaden and burdensome when it attempts to make too many weighty statements beyond the mere musicality of the song. But that is not the case with “Break My Soul”. It is a peppy dance-oriented groove that will make you want to move. More power to Beyoncé for producing good music that is simply good music…but that is, also, more, too. ***The lyrics version of “Break My Soul” can be found here.

Hold My Hand by Lady Gaga (from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Top Gun: Maverick (CHUM-FM)

Every generation seems to have their Barbra Streisand or their Céline Dion. Today’s comparable artist would be Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta or, as she is better known, Lady Gaga. Germanotta chose her stage name based upon the Queen classic song, “Radio Gaga” and, in particular, Freddy Mercury’s outstanding performance of this song during the 1987 Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in London. *(You can watch that performance here). There are many who rate Mercury’s performance that day as being the single best live performance of all time. It was a moment in which Mercury and his audience were operating in perfect harmony. It was a powerful piece of music history. One of those in awe of it was Germanotta, who has devoted her whole life to attempting to bring that same spirit of Freddy Mercury to life via her career in music.

That Lady Gaga can sing is obvious. The lady has pipes! Right from the very beginning of her career, she has released all manner of songs in all manner of styles and had hits with them all. “Just Dance”, Poker Face”, “Bad Romance”, “Paparazzi”, “Love Game”, “Born This Way”, “Alejandro”, “The Edge of Glory”, “Applause”, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” (with Tony Bennett) and the Academy Award winning song, “Shallow” (with Bradley Cooper from the movie “A Star is Born”) are just some of her hit songs which, taken together, read like a musical soundtrack for the last twenty years in popular culture. Lady Gaga has sold over 170 million albums so far, which makes her one of the most successful musical artists of all time.

Lady Gaga.

As a performer, Lady Gaga is becoming as well known as an actor as she is a singer. Her work in “A Star is Born” may have brought her into the public eye, but since then, she has commanded the spotlight in movies such as “House of Gucci” and is now lending her fame to the new Top Gun movie as well. “Hold My Hand” is the first single from the movie soundtrack, and it is soaring to the top of the charts. It is a power ballad that showcases Lady Gaga’s extraordinarily powerful voice. She wrote the song as a power ballad because, as you may know, the song style known as the power ballad was popular back in the 1980s when the original Top Gun movie premiered. So, “Hold My Hand” is not merely a song that will tug on the emotional heartstrings of those who have watched the movie, but it is also a connective song that ties this movie with the original from the 1980s. Lady Gaga is one of the biggest musical names on the planet these days so it is no surprise that she appears near the top of this week’s charts.

***The lyrics version of “Hold My Hand” can be found here.

A Potion For Love by Aurora (Indie88-FM)

Norwegian Singer, Aurora

Ever since I discovered Aurora’s cover version of the Beatles hit “All Across the Universe” last year while doing the “Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History” countdown, I have been a huge fan. What a sweet, ethereal voice she has! In my mind, Aurora is the logical successor to one of my other favourite and highly original singers, Bjork! Like Bjork, Aurora hails from northern Europe, specifically, Norway. She grew up near a fjord in an isolated part of the country and likens her childhood to being like the one experienced by the children who went through the wardrobe and into Narnia. Aurora brings this childlike sense of magic and wonder to the music she sings. You can choose almost any song of hers from YouTube and you will find the comments section filled with emotional gratitude from people from all over the world who view her songs as possessing such a feeling of beauty and peacefulness in a time of such global stress and despair.

“A Potion For Love” is no exception. It is a song about heartbreak that reads like a novel. The lyrics are highly intelligent and speak to the experience of loving and letting go and the emotions of that connection that is never truly over regardless of what terms the relationship ended upon. If you have never listened to Aurora sing then you are in for something completely different and unique. There is no one who sounds like her today. She stands alone. I, for one, feel fortunate to have stumbled across her work when I did. I hope that you will feel that way, too. ***The lyrics version for “A Potion For Love” can be found here.

Bad Habit by Steve Lacy (KEXP-FM)

Steve Lacy.

I have often been accused of being a music snob by my wife. She and I have very different tastes when it comes to the type of music we like to listen to. She is on record as saying that every song doesn’t have to tell a story or have a deeper meaning to be a good song. My beautiful wife maintains that a song can be great simply because of how it makes you feel and how it makes you want to move. Not surprisingly, my wife is drawn to the genre of music known as Pop. On that basis, I am fairly confident that she would approve of “Bad Habit” by a singer named Steve Lacy.

This song comes from his new album called “Gemini Rights”. The closest comparison I have would be Phillip Bailey, the falsetto-sounding co-lead singer of Earth, Wind and Fire. Lacy possesses an airy voice that brings a sense of lightness to his song. “Bad Habit” is a breezy, simple-sounding song that feels exactly right for playing at sidewalk cafes and outdoor patios on a summer’s day. If a breath of fresh air is what you’re after, then “Bad Habit” by Steve Lacy is probably for you. Enjoy. ***The lyrics version of this song can be found here.

Heat Waves by Glass Animals

Glass Animals.

And speaking of perfect Pop….”Heat Waves” by Glass Animals has been on the charts for over two years now!!! For many people, it is the perfect summer-sounding song. It is an earworm in the very best sense of the term. This song by English Pop band Glass Animals came out in time for the summer festival circuit prior to the onset of the pandemic…and, just like COVID, it has lingered all this time. Like many songs, its lyrics revolve around relationships and breaking up, but they are sung in such a sweet, melodic way that it appears as though “Heat Waves” has become woven into the very fabric of modern culture as we experience it today. The song is set in “…a summer day in June…”, which, when you think of it, is a clever ploy because of this wording. “Heat Waves” re-emerges every year in June like clockwork and fans fall in love with the sweetness of its sound all over again. I am sure that you have heard this song playing in the background while shopping or while driving in your car. It is a light and airy, very catchy tune. If you have never heard of it before then be prepared to thank me or loathe me for introducing it to you. Once you hear “Heat Waves”, you will always remember it. Whether that is a good thing or not I will leave up to you.

***The lyrics version of “Heat Waves” can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of the post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

You’re the One That I Want by Olivia Newton John and John Travolta from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Grease…Song #10/250.

The Stars of Stage and Screen: The stories behind some of the best song ever to appear in Hollywood or Broadway musicals.

The very first album I ever owned.

I was twelve years old in 1976. That was the year that I bought my first album with my own money. It was called, Have You Never Been Mellow? by an Australian singer named Olivia Newton John. On our local radio station, they were playing a song of hers called “Please Mr., Please”. To my pre-teen ears, her voice sounded angelic and sweet. In those days before the Internet became a thing, I did not know what Olivia Newton John looked like. I only knew what I heard on the radio. That changed one day when I found myself in the record aisle of our KMart department store. Sitting there waiting for me to buy it was her new album. That was the very first time I ever saw her face. I didn’t know it at the time but seeing that album cover was the start of a lifelong attraction to “faces”. Hers was perfect. I couldn’t believe how beautiful I thought she was. As I held that album in my hands, I was developing my very first celebrity crush. For twelve year old me, Olivia Newton John was certainly worth emptying my piggy bank for.

I thought this was the height of fashion back in the day.

In 1977, Saturday Night Fever was released in theatres. Like many, I was captivated by the light show, the pounding disco beats and, most of all, by the dance moves being performed by John Travolta on screen. Not having grown up in the age of dance movie musicals starring the likes of Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers, Saturday Night Fever was my first taste of an entire movie that was seemingly built upon a foundation of dancing. My exposure to that movie coincided with me attending my very first school dance. I was thirteen years old. I had visions of wearing the same silk suits as John Travolta and his friends all did. In truth, that first dance was a dud. Our teachers only had a limited supply of records so they played “My Eyes Adored You” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons again and again. I was too shy to ask the girl of my desires to slow dance so I spent the night standing around in a red polyester shirt and too tight pants. It was awkwardness and coolness on a collision course. But, at least I was at a dance. The music was loud. There were lights, of a sort. It was the beginning of a love affair for me with loud music in public settings.

As many of you are aware, Hollywood tends to chase its own tail when it comes to replicating success. Saturday Night Fever set box office records. The soundtrack album became one of the biggest selling albums of all time. The movie made a star out of John Travolta. So, when it came to deciding what his next starring vehicle should be, it didn’t surprise anyone that John Travolta was cast in another musical. In the late 1970s, movie musicals were the big trend in Hollywood. It was announced that the movie, Grease, would star Travolta opposite my girl, Olivia Newton John. I couldn’t have been more excited. In interviews that I saw on TV, Olivia Newton John presented as being the fresh-faced, innocent, girl-next-door type that I had always imagined her to be. I was fifteen years old when Grease premiered in theatres. It did so to positive reviews, quickly becoming one of the most popular movies of the year. Olivia Newton John was nominated for a Grammy Award for a song called “Hopelessly Devoted to You”. The soundtrack album went on to be the biggest selling live action music soundtrack in history (until topped by Les Miz several decades later). Needless to say, when the time came for me to finally watch this movie, I was pumped! Great music awaited! Superb dancing was on tap. And best of all, I was going to be able to watch my favourite celebrity on the planet on screen for an hour or two, which in those days, seemed like eternity. So, I grabbed my popcorn and my ice cold pop and settled into my seat at the Triple Cinemas in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Let the movie begin!

Olivia Newton John and John Travolta dance together in the movie, Grease.

Grease is a musical that was originally a stage production that had its premiere in Chicago. The success it achieved on stage there, and then on Broadway, convinced producers that it would translate well on screen. The plot involved two characters (Danny/Travolta and Sandy/Newton John) who had had a summer fling and who were now, unbeknownst to each other, returning to the same high school for their senior year. The movie opened with each character discussing their summer romance with their friends. Travolta, who had adopted a more sophisticated demeanour at summer camp, returned to school as the greasy leader of a gang of guys whose only interest was in learning if Travolta had gotten “lucky” with this girl he had met. Olivia Newton John, on the other hand, clutched her school books to her chest and waxed nostalgic as she recounted to her girlfriends how dreamy her summer love had been. Obviously, the two summer lovers meet up again at school and the movie rests upon whether the two can rekindle their romance in this new setting, especially since John Travolta’s character has revealed himself to be something other than the man Olivia Newton John had fallen in love with. For the first three quarters of the movie, I watched sweet, innocent, soft-speaking Sandy wrestle with her desire for Danny against the pragmatism of her understanding that, as a greasy gang leader, Danny was not the sort of boy she thought she would find herself ending up with. I was cheering Olivia Newton John on all throughout this decision-making process, secretly urging her to drop Travolta and pick me instead! But then, the song “You’re the One That I Want” began to play and Olivia Newton John announced her decision by ditching her “nice girl” clothes and donning tight leather instead. I was crushed! As Olivia Newton John announced that she was “open for business”, so to speak, and John Travolta’s eyes bulged out of his head, my heart cratered. My sweet crush had turned into a bad girl. Audiences went wild. The song “You’re the One That I Want” went straight to #1 on the charts and ended up selling over four million copies as a single. The message couldn’t have been any clearer…sweet girls get their hearts broken but girls that “put out” were the real stars of the show.

Danny Zucko is impressed with what he sees.

As a boy who always preferred Mary Ann to Ginger on Gilligan’s Island, Olivia Newton John’s on screen transformation ended my celebrity crush. She capitalized on her newfound success by releasing a series of albums that all employed sexual innuendos such as, “Physical”, “Tied Up” and “Make a Move On Me”. I don’t want to say that I was a naive teenage boy but I was. Watching Grease was one of the very first moments when I started to realize how the world worked for women and how much of their value in society was linked to their sexuality. The leering nature of Travolta’s Danny character when he believes that he is going to get lucky after all has always sickened me. I wish this was not the way of the world. But, as much as I was disappointed when Olivia Newton John appeared all leather clad and ready to play, my admiration for her as a real person increased as I learned more about her own life and the causes she supported and believed in. She has become an animal rights activist and is an outspoken cancer survivor. Olivia Newton John remains a very popular figure in the entertainment world and has eased into respected elder statesperson status with much grace and aplomb. The funny part of it all for me is that she has done it all despite the misogyny of a world filled with men like John Travolta’s character, Danny Zucko, as well as a world filled with judgey types like me who freely cast opinions from the safety of our keyboards. Perhaps all the men of the world…me included…should simply keep our mouths shut and enjoy the music.

The link to the video for the song “You’re the One That I Want” by Olivia Newton John and John Travolta from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Grease can be found here. *A link to the lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the trailer for the film Grease can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of the post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

The Stars of Stage and Screen: The Stories Behind the Most Memorable Songs From Movies and Musicals…Song #9/250: State of Love and Trust by Pearl Jam from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Singles.

It isn’t easy to live in the continental United States and exist in your own bubble of sorts, but prior to 1990, that was essentially true of the region known as the Pacific Northwest. The most populated city in the area would have been Seattle, Washington. Seattle’s closest big city neighbour is actually Vancouver, British Columbia, across the border into Canada. Prior to 1990, the Pacific Northwest region of the US was known more for its wilderness and hiking trails and, oh yes, a volcano named Mount St. Helens! If you traveled there it was definitely a destination journey, meaning that you wanted to go specifically there. It was a boutique location, for sure. Consequently, if you happened to live there, you did so in a very tight knit community. Seattle, in particular, was insulated from much of what was happening elsewhere across the States. This sense of relative isolation allowed the local Arts scene to incubate, free of scrutiny from the outside world. Thus, when local band Nirvana released “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, the outside world sat up and took notice. This song is credited with launching the Grunge music movement and creating what music journalists dubbed “The Seattle Scene”. But, truth be told, Seattle, Washington had been a hotbed for great music long before the region was “discovered” by the rest of the country. Bands such as Bikini Kill, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees and many more were all well established on the local music circuit by the time Nirvana came out with the Nevermind album. Once Nirvana went supernova, as it were, the world descended on Seattle and that quiet sense of purity that characterized the music scene there was gone forever. If you happen to ever hear someone being interviewed who was in Seattle prior to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, they always lament the loss of privacy that came with being discovered. To get a sense of what it was like to live in Seattle just before Grunge exploded isn’t easy. However, we are lucky that there was a movie made there in 1992 by director Cameron Crowe that did a pretty good job of capturing the fashion, the music, the club scene and the sense of community that existed in the Arts world in Seattle. That movie was called Singles. This is the story of that movie, the impactful soundtrack that accompanied it and the mega-hit TV show that was inspired because of it.

Singles was a movie that starred Bridget Fonda, Matt Dillon, Kyra Sedgewick and a host of characters from around Seattle such as the members of Pearl Jam, Chris Cornell and the members of Soundgarden, director Tim Burton and many others. The movie is basically a romantic comedy of sorts that uses, as its setting, the world of Seattle’s Arts scene as it existed just before “Teen Spirit” took off. Throughout much of the movie, songs by Seattle bands can be heard playing in the background, or else whole scenes will take place in a club or at a concert with real bands on stage. One scene was even shot at the real gravesite of legendary rocker…and Seattle resident…Jimi Hendrix. As such, Singles was always more than a mere movie. It was a film that intentionally captured a moment in cultural history while it was all still relatively innocent and pure. To call Singles a time capsule would be very accurate.

L – R: Chris Cornell (Soundgarden), Jeff Ament (Pearl Jam), actor Matt Dillon, Layne Staley (Alice in Chains), Director Cameron Crowe.

What makes Singles such a memorable movie is the soundtrack. The movie is crammed with great tunes by a ton of artists and bands who, at the time, were only really known in Seattle or on the college radio circuit. The whole soundtrack is packed with hits and/or performances from Seattle artists/bands that we consider to be huge today such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Paul Westerberg (formerly of The Replacements), Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone and The Smashing Pumpkins, along with familiar names such as Ann and Nancy Wilson from Heart (who perform as The Lovemongers on this soundtrack, covering a Led Zeppelin tune called “The Battle of Evermore”) and Seattle’s most famous pre-Grunge son, Jimi Hendrix, too. What makes the Singles soundtrack unique in movie history is that at the time of its release, all of the tunes were original releases. Taking that one step further, all of these bands/artists would, in time, become big stars on the national stage, but for this soundtrack, they all submitted original work. It is almost as if some cool Seattle insider made a mixtape of the best music around at the time and released it for the world to discover. From everything I have read about this movie, I believe that those musicians who agreed to take part all did so because they believed in Cameron Crowe’s vision for how the Arts community was going to be portrayed. It was also important to them that the movie have a timelessness to it so that it wouldn’t appear dated a few years after release. The Singles soundtrack has achieved that aim. It is still one of the very best movie soundtracks that I have ever heard. I owned it back in my Columbia Record Club days and I still like all of the artists and bands who contributed to it to this very day. Don’t read too much into the fact that I chose “State of Love and Trust” by Pearl Jam to represent this movie. I could have chosen almost any of the songs in this soundtrack and it would have been a good choice. I picked “State of Love and Trust” simply because it is a good tune and I own it and like it. Simple.

Bridget Fonda and Matt Dillon.

As for the movie itself, Singles never won any awards for the quality of the story being told. However, when it was released, the story of young, single, attractive twenty-somethings living near each other, growing into adulthood together, searching for love and a life lived with purpose resonated with audiences. For me, I always thought that Bridget Fonda’s character was super cute. She had a “look” that Cameron Crowe insisted that she naturally had and that somehow managed to perfectly capture that sense of fashion that was popular in Seattle at the time. This is an important note because once the movie was released, many who saw it wanted the storylines from the movie to continue on in the form of a TV show. Cameron Crowe was offered the chance to take Singles and serialize it for television but he declined, stating that he felt he had captured the spirit of Seattle perfectly in the film and didn’t wish to dilute that by having to make the story fit a national perspective. However, not long after declining the chance to take Singles to TV, a new show debuted on NBC called Friends. That show involved a group of young, attractive single twenty-somethings who all lived near each other, growing into adulthood, searching for love and a life lived with purpose. One of the stars of the show was Jennifer Aniston who, like Bridget Fonda, became known for her sense of style. I felt that “Rachel” was pretty cute at times, too. The producers of Friends insist that their show had nothing to do with Singles, but their denials are more rooted in a desire to avoid ever being sued by Crowe for a share of the profits the show has accrued over the years.

In any case, Singles is a movie that may have not ever been an Oscar-calibre story, but the cultural impact it had on the world of music and television is unquestioned. If you have never watched Singles before, please feel free to do so. It will be like unearthing a cultural time capsule. The trailer I am enclosing is really corny and low-budget, but, at least, it will introduce you to the characters. When you see it, try and figure out who inspired the various Friends characters on TV. Overall, I love Singles for the music…and for Bridget Fonda’s character. The soundtrack is outstanding. I hope that you will give it a chance, too.

The link to the video for the song “State of Love and Trust” by Pearl Jam can be found here. ***The lyrics video can be found here.

The link to the official movie trailer for Singles can be found here.

The link to a YouTube playlist for the entire movie soundtrack of Singles can be found here.

The link to the official website for Seattle, Washington can be found here.

***As always, all original content found in this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

The Stars of Stage and Screen: The Stories Behind the Most Memorable Songs From Movies and Musicals…Song #8/250: As Time Goes By from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Casablanca.

Casablanca was released in 1942. It starred Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid. It is universally regarded as being one of the top films ever produced in Hollywood. The song “As Time Goes By” was recently ranked by the American Film Institute as being the second most memorable movie song of all time (just behind “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz). Casablanca went on to win Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. To say that this movie made major stars of Bogart and Bergman is an understatement. Their on-screen chemistry and movie storyline of star-crossed lovers helped make Casablanca one of Hollywood’s first great romantic blockbusters. But, truth be told, Casablanca is a war movie. It was made during war time for a very specific reason and made under certain absolute restrictions. Making movies during wartime was (and still is) different than doing so during times of peace. As this post will show, the old saw about “life imitating art” was very true in 1942.

World War II officially broke out in 1939. For the first half of the war, the Allied countries were back on their heels as Germany swiftly conquered country after country in Europe. One of the biggest prizes for Germany was when France surrendered and German forces occupied Paris and the surrounding French countryside. The only thing that stood between German control of all of western Europe was England. But there is a truism that seems to exist regardless of where in the world wars are fought. It is that although a country may be defeated in battle, it is never truly beaten as long as there are enough people to form an army of resistance. Resistance fighters may be small in number but their constant harassment of an invading army does wonders for the morale of the vanquished citizens and serves to remind them that their country lives on despite the colour of the flag flying atop important buildings nearby. So, by the time Casablanca was filmed and released in 1942, much of Europe was under Nazi occupation. Organized resistance movements existed in France, Poland, Holland and Czechoslovakia. But, at the same time, the organizational operations of conquered cities needed to continue so the German government installed puppet regimes in all conquered countries. The people who agreed to cooperate with the Germans became known as collaborators. Many collaborators were seen as traitors by ordinary citizens, as well as by resistance fighters. However, for those who opted to cooperate, they viewed their decision as being a pragmatic one that offered them the best chance of surviving the war intact. So it was into this nuanced context that the movie Casablanca was written, filmed and released to the world.

In the movie, Humphrey Bogart’s character owns a nightclub called Rick’s Café Americain. This club is a transit hub for all sorts of characters such as actual Nazi officers, French collaborators, resistance fighters, as well as ordinary citizens all trying to keep their heads above water. One of the things that Casablanca did that helped elevate it to the top of movies set during wartime was in how it showed the intricate web of politics that was constantly at play all throughout the war. Many war-themed movies seemed fixated on battles and soldiers and sacrifice and valour on the battlefield. Hollywood studios were actually tasked by the government to produce movies that helped with war time recruitment by creating heroic characters who defeated tyranny against all odds. Many of these movies were made under the auspices of the American Armed Forces and starred actors who had enlisted such as Clark Gable, Ronald Reagan, Rod Taylor, Jimmy Stewart and so on. These “morale” movies were also created to help ensure that public opinion tipped in favour of government policies when it came to the United States’ initial neutrality, and then their entrance into the war as a combatant. The final role that many of these movies played was in the creation of villains. As many have noted, perhaps none more forcefully than George Orwell in 1984, the creation of an “enemy” supplies much of the fuel to any nation’s war machine, and so there were many movies created and released during WWII that demonized German and Japanese soldiers as being heartless and evil. But, Casablanca seemed to present a more subtle view of the many moving pieces involved in the on-going conflict in Europe, and for that reason, it seemed to resonate more with many viewers. That having been said, Casablanca was released just as Allied forces were set to invade North Africa in an attempt to liberate Morocco (where Casablanca is located) from Nazi rule so, timing also played a huge part in the success of this movie.

Ingrid Bergman and Dooley Wilson. “As Time Goes By”.

The plotline of Casablanca revolves around the somewhat shady character of Rick, as played by Humphrey Bogart. He is the owner of the club but he is also someone who trades in a form of currency called secrets. Rick knows who the players all are and moves among them all like a chameleon, being who each needs him to appear to be. The story moves forward once Rick becomes in possession of two “travel documents” which allow the bearers to travel freely throughout the occupied territories. These documents are priceless to those seeking to flee from the Nazis: especially, for people who are Jewish. Consequently, whoever controls these documents can name their price, whether that price is in terms of money, jewels, property or sexual favours. Rick’s world is unfolding as usual until one day when a woman and man walk into the club. The woman is Ingrid Bergman. The man is her husband, Lazlo, who is a Czech resistance fighter. The two are happily married. However, as she enters the club, she sees Rick and immediately is taken back to a time when she knew Rick previously. Her reaction to seeing him again is to approach the piano player, Sam (as played by Dooley Wilson) and ask for a special song to be sung. That song is “As Time Goes By”. The playing of this song serves an important purpose in the movie. It acts much the same way the old Greek Chorus used to in the early days of drama. Back then, the Chorus was a group of characters whose role was to add commentary to help the audience understand what was transpiring on stage. In Casablanca, “As Time Goes By” serves to help the audience understand that Bergman and Bogart’s characters were not, in fact, meeting for the first time. Furthermore, in a previous place and time, they were very much in love. Suddenly, with the playing of one simple song, a complex love triangle erupts amid all of the political maneuverings that were already afoot in Rick’s Café Americain.

I won’t spoil the movie by saying any more in case there are readers who haven’t watched Casablanca and may wish to do so. However, I will comment on one final aspect of making this movie during wartime in 1942. I do not think it is breaking the “spoiler alert” code by stating that movies made during WWII in the US were not permitted to have overly sympathetic German characters. That is true of Casablanca, too. The US needed to have enemies for political reasons, so, as much as the screenwriters tried to create slightly more nuanced characters, it is not hard to watch this movie and know who to root for. But, in addition to adhering to guidelines regarding the characterization of Germans, the folks who wrote the screenplay also had to navigate around rules that existed regarding morality. For that reason, as much as it may have been obvious that Bogart and Bergman’s characters had been sexually intimate in their previous encounters, no mention of them being lovers was permitted because she was a married woman in the movie. Even in the song, “As Time Goes By”, the line, “and when two lovers woo” is quickly followed by, “they still say I love you” because it gave the appearance that the song was about a married couple, as opposed to two singles hooking up for an illicit encounter. If you have watched the movie or if you intend to, the manner in which the writers twist themselves into pretzels to maintain the integrity of a female character who was, obviously, a lover to two different men, is something to behold and very indicative of the times in which the movie was made.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

Casablanca is a war movie like no other. The politics of living in wartime are laid bare for all to see. As well, the nature of the term personal sacrifice, which usually refers to soldiers on the battlefield in most war movies, is presented in a very humanistic manner here. Audiences became invested in the resolution of the love triangle amid the dangerous atmosphere of war. Lives definitely change as a result of everyone coming together in Rick’s Café Americain during the German occupation. Because, even in wartime, “you must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh, the fundamental things apply, as time goes by”.

The link to the video for the song “As Time Goes By” from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Casablanca can be found here.

The link to the trailer for the movie Casablanca can be found here.

**As always, all original content of this post remains the property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

The Stars of Stage and Screen: The Stories Behind the Songs From Our Favourite Movies and Musicals…Song #6/250: Falling Slowly from the Original Soundtrack to the Film, Once.

Once starring Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard.

You may be forgiven if you have never heard of the movie Once. It was an independent movie made in Ireland in 2007. It was filmed for approximately 100,000 Euros, which is an insanely small budget for a full length movie. The two lead characters were not actors, but instead, musicians: Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. The onscreen names of the two lead characters are never mentioned in the film. Instead, Hansard is simply called “Guy”, and Irglova is simply called “Girl”. The producer did not obtain permits for any of the scenes shot in public places, and because those scenes were filmed with a telescopic lens, none of the citizens shown in those scenes were aware that they were being filmed and simply went about their business in markets and on crowded streets. Upon its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, critics hailed Once as being the best movie about music of its generation, even though it is not a musical. Once ended the year on 37 different movie critics’ Top Ten lists of the best movies of year for 2007. It ended up winning an Academy Award for Best Song in a Motion Picture. That song was “Falling Slowly”. Their win was noteworthy because of what happened during their acceptance speech. Hansard is twice as old as Irglova, an extroverted presence that contrasts with Irglova’s quieter, softer presence. Not surprisingly, Hansard strode to the microphone and thanked those who needed to be thanked while Irglova stood quietly beside him. When Hansard finished, the orchestra started to play and the television producers went to commercial. Unbeknownst to them all, Irglova had stepped in front of the microphone and unexpectedly started to speak but was cut off on live tv. Upon returning from the commercial break, host Jon Stewart interrupted the show, publicly apologized to Irglova and gave her the chance to say her piece and to speak for herself. As should have happened in the first place.

Guy and Girl sing “Falling Slowly” together for the first time.

The plotline of Once is very simple, yet very original at the same time. It is a non-musical movie that uses music to drive the action forward. Glen Hansard stars as a street busker who plays an acoustic guitar on the streets of Ireland and survives on the coins that are thrown into his open guitar case. One day while busking, Guy (Hansard) sees Girl (Irglova) as she walks down the street selling flowers to passers by. Guy is immediately drawn to Girl’s innocent look (Hansard was 37 at the time of filming and Irglova 19). The rest of the movie involves how Guy and Girl slowly fall in love and realize that they have met their soulmate. Because the storyline is simplistic, it leaves room for twists and turns that add nuance to the story of Guy and Girl. How the movie ends was talked about and discussed as much as, if not more than, how the romance itself played out. Once takes place on street corners while Guy busks with his guitar, in music stores as the two characters reveal their inner feelings and/or bits of their personalities and past lives through songs they play for one another and through the shared, intimate acts of vulnerability that come when you trust someone enough to share your creative process with them. It is a beautiful, tiny gem of a movie and was the favourite of the critics for a reason. If you want to watch a movie with a story that will touch your heart all the while telling you a great story that is more complex than you might realize, then Once is the movie for you. I highly recommend it.

If you need any more convincing as to the economy of exquisite detail employed in making this movie then, here are the only two facts you need to know: first of all, the song “Falling Slowly” is about two people falling in love. It was sung as a duet, as it should be. In the movie, they sing together at a piano in a music shop where the owner allows her to play (because she cannot afraid a piano of her own). They sing together a song written by Guy about a Girl. Not this Girl but a long lost Girl that still occupies a space in the mind of Guy. They sing this song slowly, at first and in perfect harmony by the end. They sing acoustically, without the adornment of electronic instruments…just guitar strings, piano strings and, I suppose, heart strings, too. It is falling in love as shown through the act of singing a song. “Falling Slowly” started as being about one couple but ends with it being about them. The song and the scene are altogether lovely. Secondly, the title of the movie is actually the answer to the question, “How many times in life do you find your soulmate?”

As Marketa is eventually given time to say in her Academy Award winning acceptance speech….and I am paraphrasing….through Art there is Hope and it is Hope that connects us all.

The link to the video for the song “Falling Slowly” from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Once can be found here.

The link to the trailer for the movie Once can be found here.

The link to the acceptance speech that went awry at the Academy Awards can be found here.

The Stars of Stage and Screen: the Stories Behind the Most Memorable Songs from Musicals and the Movies…Song # 5/250: Interstellar Suite by Hans Zimmer from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Interstellar

I read that those involved in the making of the 2014 movie, Interstellar believed they were making a movie worthy of being thought of as this generation’s version of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Interstellar is certainly a sweeping epic that involves weighty topics such as time travel, the origins of life on new planets and the ties that bind families together over the course of many generations. It stars an A-list cast that includes Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine and Timothee Chalamet. In addition to those fine people, the movie soundtrack is scored by none other than the current king of movie composers, Hans Zimmer. *(A previous post was written about Hans Zimmer. It can be read here). So, the table is set for a sumptuous cinematic feast. Let’s dig in and find out how good it actually tastes.

The plotline of Interstellar is that our time on Earth is coming to an end. The planet has dried out because of climate change. Drinking water is becoming scarce. Dust storms are becoming more frequent. So, a team of astronauts is tasked with searching for signs of habitable planets in other solar systems. Interstellar space travel is made possible because of the discovery of a black hole beside Saturn. Exploratory missions have determined that it is possible to travel safely through this black hole, and not only that, but return again to Earth through it as well. As much as this all sounds like science fiction, the science behind Interstellar was based upon work conducted by one of the world’s pre-eminent authorities on black holes…an astrophysicist named Dr. Kip Thorne. Because of Dr. Thorne’s involvement, many of the fantastical space scenarios shown in the movie are, in fact, rooted in real science, and may end up turning from science fiction to science fact in the not-too-distant future in real life.

But the movie Interstellar is more than just a space movie. At its core, Interstellar is a treatise on the nature of family as the foundation of our society. On Earth, Matthew McConaughey’s family anchors the emotional aspect of the movie. He plays an astronaut who has left the space programme and is raising his two children on a farm. All is good until the climate starts to deteriorate, and the family starts finding what they believe to be coded messages left in the dust that collects in the daughter’s bedroom after each dust storm. The dust appears to be in binary code. The journey to crack this code leads McConaughey to return to space headquarters to volunteer to go on the mission to find new, habitable planets through the black hole by Saturn. His decision to go is based on his heartfelt need to discover a way to protect the future so his children will survive. His children, on the other hand, feel abandoned by him. The emotions at play fuel the decisions of McConaughey, his young daughter (played by Mackenzie Foy), and his son (played by Timothee Chalamet) for the rest of the movie. The added twist that helps to raise Interstellar beyond that of a typical family drama yarn is time travel. When McConaughey and his fellow astronauts travel through the black hole and begin exploring new planets, they age at a slower rate than they would have if they had remained on Earth. In the video that accompanies this post, you will note that McConaughey stays at relatively the same age all throughout the video whereas his daughter changes from a child (Foy) to an adult woman (Chastain) and then, to an elderly lady on her deathbed in a hospital (Ellen Burstyn). So, McConaughey wrestles with the fact that he may have saved the future of Earth, but in doing so, he missed out on his children’s entire lives. There is more to the story than this, but I have probably said too much already for anyone who may wish to watch this movie as a result of this post, so I’ll be quiet now.

The score for the movie was composed by Hans Zimmer specifically for an organ. By organ, I mean a grand, cathedral-esque organ with massive pipes. When Zimmer was tasked with scoring the movie for an organ, he was told that an organ produces a sound that is deep and that resonates in cavernous spaces, but most of all because an organ relies on air for its existence, just like humans do. So, as you watch the video of Zimmer conducting his orchestra, note the presence of the organ and the huge pipes. The video also shows how the score ties into the themes of the movie by displaying the notes on screen as dots and dashes. As these images flow by, you can start to distinguish between them all and match them with the notes you are hearing from the various musical instruments that are playing at any one time. The dashes that are located higher up on screen are for higher-pitched notes and those lower down on the screen are for lower-pitched notes. As well, some dashes are longer than others, which will indicate that a particular note is being held longer while other, shorter dashes/notes weave in and around it. It is fascinating to watch. In addition to the musical construction of the Interstellar Suite, segments from the movie are shown. The scenes from outer space seem to me to work particularly well with Zimmer’s Suite. All in all, I find this video entitled Interstellar Suite to be mesmerizing at times, and I find myself being emotionally invested in the story that is unfolding. You should know that Interstellar Suite is fourteen minutes long, but in my estimation, it doesn’t seem long enough. Between Zimmer’s score and the movie’s scope, this video keeps me coming back for more.

So, is Interstellar this generation’s version of 2001: A Space Odyssey? I don’t think so. But it is still a terrific movie that raises questions about the nature of Love and of how deep our commitment goes to those we call family. Interstellar is a good movie. I think it is fine to stand on its own without having its worth measured by being compared to any other movie. The science of Interstellar is sound. The emotional themes being explored will draw you in and keep you there. The action will have you on the edge of your seat. Zimmer’s musical score is excellent, as usual. So, by all means, check out Interstellar if you feel like watching a good movie. You won’t be disappointed.

If you have seen the movie I would be interested to know what you thought of it. Please feel free to leave your comments below. As well, if you have any other outer space-themed movies that you wish to recommend, feel free to do so below.

The link to the video for the composition Interstellar Suite by Hans Zimmer can be found here.

The link to the trailer for the movie Interstellar can be found here.

The link to a much more thorough and weighty dissection of Interstellar’s plot, the science behind it and the philosophy behind it all can be found here. Please note: this article goes into great detail about what happens in the movie, so obviously, SPOILER ALERT!!! Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed this article, so do with that information what you will.

***As always, this is a reminder to all that all original content contained within this post is the sole property of the author. This post cannot be reblogged, copied or shared without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Today’s Top 40: A Closer Look at the Stories Behind the Hottest Songs of the Day…Song # 3/250: As It Was by Harry Styles

Editor’s Note: Just for the information of those keeping score, I am tweaking the format of this series slightly. For starters, I am expanding the list of Top 40 charts I am leaning on for content, and as well, I am going to be more random in what chart position I compare each week. In the past, I had started at Position #40, and then I wrote about Position #39 the following week, etc.… Now, I am going to bounce around the chart positions in order to give these posts a bit more variety than they may have had otherwise. So, starting today, I am using the Top 40 charts from the following places: BBC1, CFNY-FM and CHUM-FM (from Toronto), Billboard Magazine, Spotify Weekly Countdown, as well as KEXP.FM (from Seattle). So, without further delay, let’s look at what is hot and trending in the world of music today.

Today’s Chart Position: #1.

Today’s Musical Selection: As It Was by Harry Styles (BBC1)

Other Contenders:

Kendrick Lamar: n95 (Spotify, KEXP)

Kendrick Lamar is, arguably, the most respected performer in the world of Hip Hop at the moment. His albums have been hailed as masterpieces for years now. As Hip Hop lyricists go, he has often been considered a poet, as much as he is a rapper. It is not by fluke that Kendrick Lamar finds himself atop two very different Top 40 charts at the same time. He is highly recommended, if you are in the mood for some cutting edge Hip Hop. ***Listener discretion advised.

Of Monsters and Men: Alligator (CFNY.FM)

Of Monsters and Men hail from Iceland and have had much success on the Alternative music scene for the past decade. They hold a soft spot in my heart because we used to play their song King and Lionheart at my favourite little school, Grant Sine PS, just before it closed. The song spoke of change and the need for courage. Our school was located in the middle of a socially-assisted housing complex, so change was not something that anyone wanted. In order to prepare the kids for the coming storm, as it were, we often gathered together and sang as a school community. One of the songs we sang the most was King and Lionheart. Alligator is a peppy, Folk-Rock song that you will enjoy if you give it a listen. It will get your toes a-tapping, for sure.

Camilla Cabello and Ed Sheeran: Bam Bam (CHUM-FM)

Ed Sheeran is certainly one of the most prolific musical talents of his generation. Whether we talk about his solo records or his many collaborations, it seems as though Ed Sheeran is everywhere, all of the time, when you turn on the radio. Camilla Cabello got her start with the hit song Havana. Since then, she has enjoyed much chart success around the world, and is definitely one of the most respected and recognized young female stars in music today. The song Bam Bam is about picking up the pieces after breaking up with someone you thought you might build your life around. Many believe that this song is about her relationship with Canada’s own Shawn Mendes. As one would expect from one of today’s top Pop stars, Bam Bam is infused with Latin beats and plenty of upbeat vibes. It is an easy song to bop to, all the while forgetting that her heart is breaking throughout the whole song.

Jack Harlow: First Class (Billboard)

A rapper from Louisiana, Jack Harlow is one of the rising stars of the genre. I don’t particularly like this song nor this style of sexually-charged storytelling, but apparently, that may just be me. Harlow debuted at #1 on many charts in the US and around the world with this song. Feel free to check this out if a song about doing favours for beautiful women…such as moving them up to First Class… in exchange for sex…is your jam.

Now, on to today’s chosen artist and song….

Harry Styles is a multi-talented artist who has experienced success as a solo singer, as a member of one of the biggest selling Boy Bands of all time, One Direction, as well as taking star turns as an actor in highly-regarded movies such as Dunkirk. But as much as Harry Styles is known for being a star of stage and screen, he is becoming equally as well known for his work in the Fashion world as a style icon and for his philanthropic work supporting numerous causes…the most important to him being those centered around gender identity and the LGBTQ2s+ community. So, let’s take a few moments and get to know a young man who is combining substance and style in ways rarely seen these days. Harry Styles is one of the biggest stars on the planet at the moment. This is his story.

Harry Styles is actually his real name. It almost seems too perfect to be true, but it is. He was born Harry Gordon Styles in 1994 in Redditch, Worcestershire, England (which is a little over an hour to the northwest of London, just south of Birmingham). Harry was a music lover all through his childhood. When he turned sixteen years of age, his mother encouraged him to try out for a British television show called The X Factor. Harry Styles made it through the initial audition process as a solo singer, but was eliminated in the second round of competition. However, Styles was given a second chance by the show’s creator, Simon Cowell. That second chance turned out to be one of the turning points in Harry Styles’ life. Cowell told all those who had been eliminated in the second round that they could re-audition for a chance to be on the show, but this time, they weren’t allowed to be solo acts anymore. They had to find a partner or form into a group. Harry Styles still had dreams of having a singing career, so he agreed to Cowell’s new format and met up with four other male singers named Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and Zayn Malik. The five boys agreed to rebrand themselves as One Direction…because there was only one direction they wished to be headed, and that was straight to the top! One Direction ended up making it all the way to the finale and placed third overall. As a reward, they were given the chance to record and release a song out in the real world. The song was called What Makes You Beautiful. That song became a monster hit for the boys, reaching all the way to #1 around the world. I can tell you for a fact that it was a very popular tune in my own house, with my two daughters who were reaching the age where they were just starting to make their own song choices and playlists. One Direction had many more hits such as Story of My Life, Best Song Ever, Drag Me Down, Perfect, Steal My Girl and many more. From 2010-2015, One Direction sold over 70 million albums, making them one of the biggest-selling Boy Bands in history (trailing only The Backstreet Boys, The Jackson 5, BTS and surprisingly enough, The Osmonds).

As One Direction released album after album, their success grew exponentially. However, keeping in mind that the members of the band all entered into the profession with dreams of solo stardom, it was not all that surprising that the band called it quits at the very height of their fame. While all five members possess musical talent, it was Harry Styles who seemed to always stand out…just as Justin Timberlake did while a member of ‘NSync. So, in 2016, Harry Styles began his solo career. That phase of his musical career has been just as wildly successful as was his time in One Direction. His many hits include Sign of the Times (which was Rolling Stone Magazine’s Song of the Year in 2017, as well as being BBC1’s Music Video of the Year), Falling, Watermelon Sugar, Adore You, Fine Line, Treat People With Kindness (Harry Styles’ merch. is often tagged with the letters TPWK, which, as it turns out, is an acronym for this song), and finally, the #1 song around the world today, As It Was.

The song title, As It Was, is actually part of a longer line from the lyrics of the song which states that…nothing is the same as it was. This song is about many things, but primarily, it offers a commentary on the changing nature of how we view other people. As mentioned earlier in this post, Styles is on the forefront of a societal change with regard to gender identity and how accepting we must be of the personal choices that people make. Many people note that Styles has started becoming known for wearing clothes on stage that many would consider to be “women’s clothing and accessories”. When asked if his style of fashion was signalling to the world that he was coming out publicly with a sexual preference, Styles replied that his sexual preferences should not be a factor in accepting him for who he is as a singer and an actor. Harry Styles believes that our penchant for judging others in gender-specific ways serves to limit the potential that each of us has within us. I am not sure that I want to wear pearls, as he often does, or to don frilly frocks, but I suppose that If I did, I would still be me and that is the point that Harry Styles is using his public platform to make. When asked about being a role model, Styles claims that he wishes to follow in the footsteps of people such as David Bowie, who used fashion and music for the cause of advancing social change.

As 2022 unfolds, the sky is truly the limit for Harry Styles. His new album, Harry’s House, is the top-rated album in the world as you read these words. I am sure that another acting gig awaits after how well he did in his role as a British soldier in the Academy Award-winning movie Dunkirk. Harry has also been heavily involved in the fashion Industry, and has already served as co-chair of the extravagant Met Gala in 2019, so a fashion-oriented future remains on the table for our young star, too. Overall, Harry Styles stands as one of the world’s biggest stars and most forward thinkers. It is with interest that we should all monitor how his future unfolds, because, no doubt, more great and memorable things are in store for everyone.

The link to the video for the song As It Was can be found here.

The link to the official website for Harry Styles can be found here.

The link to the closing scene from the movie, Dunkirk, featuring Harry Styles can be found here.

The link to the official website for BBC1, where Harry Styles and As It Was are ranked as #1, can be found here.

***Just a reminder that all original content in this post is the sole property of the author. This blog post may not be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

The Stars of Stage and Screen: the Stories Behind the Greatest Songs in Broadway and Hollywood History…Song # 3/250: Gonna Fly Now from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film, Rocky

There is a strong case to be made that Muhammad Ali was the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. Furthermore, it is more than wishful nostalgia to declare that the history of his career coincided with a time in boxing that deserves to be known as the Golden Age of the sport. In his heyday, there was no boxer faster on his feet, more skilled with his jabs, nor more eloquent with his mouth. Muhammad Ali was the original G.O.A.T.

FILE — Referee Zack Clayton counts out George Foreman as Muhammed Ali looks on in the 8th round of their title bout in Kinshasa, Zaire, in this Oct. 30, 1974 photo. (AP Photo/Jim Boudier, File)

There has always been a certain blood lust associated with the sport of boxing. In fact, it is fair to say that race plays a big part in a business that often puts Black and Hispanic fighters in harm’s way for the viewing pleasure of white audiences and the profitability of white promoters. All throughout the history of Muhammad Ali’s multiple reigns atop the heavyweight division, his most storied fights were against other Black men….Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and, most famously, George Foreman. At the time Ali came to face Foreman in a fight billed as The Rumble in the Jungle, George Foreman had battered his way through the entire heavyweight division with unbridled ferocity. The only person standing between him and the heavyweight title was Ali. At the time, Muhammad Ali was considered to be the underdog. But Ali trained hard, and employed a unique strategy of willingly absorbing punishment for multiple rounds to begin the fight. His Rope-a-Dope technique worked perfectly. As Ali stood against the ropes, Foreman punched and punched and punched with all of his might. Ali, leaning back against ropes, took most punches against his raised forearms. As Round #5 came to an end, George Foreman’s mouth began to stay open as he sucked in as much oxygen as he could. His own arms were growing weary from overuse. It was the sign that Muhammad Ali had been waiting for. George Foreman…more a monster than a man…had begun to punch himself out. Foreman was tired. Ali was not. In the 6th round, Ali began to counterpunch. Foreman, too tired to adequately defend himself, was rocked by an Ali right hand and down he went. The most famous boxing match in history was over and Ali had won!

After the bout, Muhammad Ali returned to America. His promoters were puzzled as to how they would follow up such a huge match. Ali had already fought all of the main contenders for the title so, re-matches with any of them came off as uninspiring choices for Ali’s next match. Then, someone came up with the idea of giving Ali an easy payday by signing him up to fight an outsider…a nobody, in terms of pedigree. The idea for the match was to hype it as The Champ giving a bum a once in a lifetime opportunity to fight for the title. The person Ali’s camp selected for this fight was a man from Bayonne, New Jersey, named Chuck Wepner. Wepner had some skills as a boxer. He had been in the Marines, and had won an amateur title in his younger days. But, he was best known for losing to the man Muhammad Ali had beat to launch his career, Sonny Liston. In the Liston fight, Wepner was cut open for 72 stitches and became known forevermore as The Bayonne Bleeder. Even though Wepner was ranked in the top ten of the heavyweight division, it was more because of his skin colour than his boxing skills. You see, the final angle being promoted by Muhammad Ali’s promoters was that Wepner was actually that rarest of heavyweight boxers known as The Great White Hope. At that time in Boxing history, there hadn’t been a white heavyweight champ for several decades, so the pride of Jersey, Chuck Wepner, suddenly became billed as the pride of White America. It was White vs. Black. It was an ex-Marine vs the most famous conscientious objector ever. It was an unknown tomato can vs the People’s Champ. The odds were set at 20-1, and even at those odds, most observers gave Wepner even less of a chance than that. Truth be told, even Wepner believed he had no chance against Ali. In the end, as he told his wife on the eve of the fight, all he wanted to do was go the distance and not embarrass himself. If he survived the fight, Wepner told himself, that would be victory enough.

Wepner drops Ali.

The fight took place in Richfield, Ohio. For Wepner, there was to be no Hollywood ending. He lost the fight by referee stoppage in the 11th round. Ali dominated the fight, as many had anticipated. Wepner’s one shining moment happened in the 9th round when he punched Ali in the chest just as Ali was turning away and backing up. The off-balanced nature of Ali’s body, in combination with Wepner’s punch, sent Ali to the canvas for one of the very few times in his entire career. Ali got back up…more embarrassed and angry than hurt. He proceeded to up his tempo and quickly finished Wepner off in the next few minutes of action. Despite the fact that Ali had won and had remained as Champion, those who grew up in the New York/New Jersey area and had followed Wepner’s career up until this point were thrilled that he had gone eleven rounds with Ali, and that he had even knocked Ali down once. To the locals, Wepner had done well, and they were all very proud of him. A few days after the fight, one man tracked Wepner down in order to congratulate him and to discuss a business idea he had. That man was a young actor from Flatbush, New York, named Sylvester Stallone.

Stallone had appeared in one Hollywood movie at that point, called The Lords of Flatbush. That movie didn’t do very well nationally, but in the New York/New Jersey area, it was lauded as a masterpiece. As such, even though he was a relatively unknown actor, Sylvester Stallone had carved out a local reputation for himself. So, when he approached Wepner with an idea for a movie inspired by Wepner’s fight with Muhammad Ali, Stallone was warmly received. The movie idea that Stallone pitched turned out to be the script for the original version of the Rocky franchise. In that movie, Stallone created a role for himself as an underdog boxer. In fact, one of the legendary aspects of the original Rocky movie is that, because Stallone was a relatively unknown actor, Hollywood executives wanted to cast more established stars in the lead role. For example, the role of Rocky was offered to the likes of James Caan and Jon Voight first. However, in true underdog fashion, Stallone refused to sell the rights to his screenplay unless it came with the guarantee that he would get to play the lead. Eventually, Stallone found a buyer who would agree to his terms. But, in return, the studio hedged its bets by only giving Stallone a shoe-string budget to work with. So, for less than one million dollars, Rocky was made. It earned numerous Academy Awards that year, including the award for Best Picture. It reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket sales, making Rocky one of the best movie-making investments of all time.

Rocky…arms raised in a “V”.

In the course of making this movie, Stallone employed many script elements that were, in fact, directly taken from Chuck Wepner’s life. The now iconic scenes of Stallone training for the fight by punching sides of beef came straight out of Wepner’s own training routine. As well, the famous scene in which Rocky’s trainer, played by veteran actor Burgess Meredith, implores Rocky to abstain from sex during the lead up to the fight, because “women weaken legs” is a direct reference to Wepner’s penchant for being distracted in-fight by the scantily clad ring card girls who walk the perimeter of the boxing ring between rounds. The final and most iconic scene from Rocky is when he runs up the steps to the Museum of Art in Philadelphia, raising his arms in victory as he reaches the top steps. Those steps have now become known as the Rocky Steps and there was a statue created and placed there that reproduced the moment when Stallone, as Rocky, raised his arms in the air. Part of what made that moment in the movie so memorable was the rousing musical score that accompanied the scene. Composer Bill Conti wrote a piece of music that most people mistakenly call Rocky’s Theme. In fact, the actual name of the song is Gonna Fly Now, which is the chorus of the song. The entire music budget for the film was less than $25,000.

Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Wepner.

Since Rocky arrived in theatres, that character has become the de facto role model for all underdog characters on screen as well as in real life. The song Gonna Fly Now has also become iconic and is used in sporting arenas all over the world as a hype song for the home team. Sylvester Stallone parlayed his success with Rocky into further projects, and went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest names. Over the course of his career, Stallone has achieved movie sales of over one billion dollars, making him a multi-millionaire several times over. As for Chuck Wepner…the original inspiration for the character of Rocky Balboa…according to Wepner, he never received a dime from Stallone nor from ticket or merchandise sales from any of the Rocky movies (there were six, in total). Wepner netted only $60,000 from his original fight with Muhammad Ali, so he was not a wealthy man by any stretch, and could have used the extra dollars he deserved as a result of his role in helping Sylvester Stallone realize his dream of creating the Rocky movie. In his later years, Wepner was convinced to launch a lawsuit against Stallone. Apparently, there was an undisclosed settlement reached. Even after that, Wepner has stated that he has no regrets with how things turned out. He says that, just as lasting eleven rounds with a great boxer like Muhammad Ali was victory enough, so is having people know that he is the original Rocky. When you have been an underdog your whole life, sometimes the victories tend to be moral ones. So they are with the Bayonne Bleeder, Chuck Wepner…the greatest underdog of all time!

The link to the video for the song Gonna Fly Now by Bill Conti for the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Rocky can be found here.

The link to the video for the movie Rocky can be found here.

The link to the official website for Chuck Wepner can be found here.

The link to the official website for Muhamad Ali can be found here.

The link to the official website for Sylvester Stallone can be found here.

Much of the information about Chuck Wepner’s fight with Muhammad Ali comes from a great book called Facing Ali by sportswriter Stephen Brunt. A link to purchase that book can be found here.

***As always, here is a reminder that all original content found in this post is the sole property of the author. There is no reblogging, copying or sharing of the content of this post without the express written consent of the author. ©2022